Why Do Cats Have Accidents When Their Owners Leave Town?

Cat owners often complain that their cats are “jealous” or “get revenge” by urinating and defecating inappropriately after being left alone during an owner’s vacation. This myth is so pervasive that it appears in comics, books, movies and almost every possible segment of pop culture. But can cats really feel jealousy and desire revenge, then enact a plan to take that revenge through eliminating outside the litterbox? A much simpler explanation exists for this behavior: Stress and territorial behavior lead to inappropriate elimination during an owner’s vacation.

Eliminating in Luggage

It’s not at all unusual for cats to urinate or defecate in a suitcase left lying open, packed or unpacked, before or after an owner has gone out of town. This is often interpreted as evidence that the cat is angry about the owner’s upcoming travel and is expressing displeasure intentionally. The truth is, suitcases look a little bit like a litterbox full of things that smell like the cat’s owner. A cat eliminating in its owner’s suitcase is probably feeling stressed by changes in his routine in preparation for the owner’s planned trip or because of a trip that has already happened. As a result, he seeks out items that carry his guardian’s scent and eliminates on them, marking the owner as his territory.

Elimination Problems While the Owner Is Away

Frequent pet sitters know that many cats stop using their litterboxes when left alone for an extended period. This, again, is often misinterpreted as a form of revenge taken on an owner who has left his cat home alone. The truth (as usual) is more mundane and less tied up with human emotion.

When a cat’s owner is present in the home, the guardian’s living and sleeping areas are interpreted as such by the cat. If the cat is alone, stressed and lonely, it may decide that its owner has given up his claim to those areas of the home. The cat then marks its territory by eliminating in the owner’s sleeping and living areas. This behavior usually ceases when the owner returns, but may continue if stains haven’t been completely removed with an enzyme cleaner.

Prevention

So how can you stop your cat from turning your home into a giant litterbox while you’re away? Start by minimizing stress before the trip. Don’t change your cat’s routine or schedule until it’s absolutely necessary that you do so. Get a Feliway diffuser for each room where the cat spends a great deal of time. Try to introduce the cat to your petsitter well before your planned trip.

While you’re away, make sure that your pet sitter sticks to your cat’s usual routine as much as possible. Keeping feeding times and litterbox cleanliness the same will help to reduce inappropriate elimination. If necessary, leave your bedroom and bathroom doors closed to reduce temptation while you’re away.

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  1. jelenawoehr
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  2. HART (1-800-HART)
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